The following review contains spoilers for this week’s episode of Doctor Who.
Steven Moffat left himself a doozy of a cliffhanger to work with at the end of last week’s penultimate episode of Doctor Who. The Doctor was at the mercy of two incarnations of his only equal, The Master, and his companion Bill had been transformed into a Mondasian Cyberman. Half of that teaser was resolved very quickly at the beginning of ‘The Doctor Falls’ and the other received a more drawn-out resolution, which has already proved divisive online, at the end of the episode. What Moffat and director Rachel Talalay definitely achieved, though, was a finale of scale and spectacle that proved a fitting showcase for Peter Capaldi as he prepares to leave the show behind.
The Doctor, imprisoned by Missy (Michelle Gomez) and The Master (John Simm), was able to convince the central Cyberman computer to try to convert Time Lords as well as humans. Frustrated, both Masters were forced to flee with the Doctor, Nardole (Matt Lucas) and the recently converted Bill (Pearl Mackie). They holed up with a group of survivors on a higher floor of the spaceship, but the Cybermen were hot on their tails and, in the intervening time, they had evolved well beyond their primitive Mondasian incarnations.
‘The Doctor Falls’ was something of a mixed bag of a series finale, but where it undoubtedly succeeded was in allowing Peter Capaldi a last hurrah as the Doctor. He got the chance to deliver one of his trademark righteous monologues when facing the two incarnations of the Master, which was a bracing and heart-breaking reminder of just how much of a potent actor Capaldi is. He has brought real thespian gravitas to the Doctor in a way that few others have. Pearl Mackie, also, was phenomenal here as a woman gradually coming to terms with her Cyber-conversion. It will be a tragedy if she bows out of the show after just one series.
Unfortunately, the much-heralded and incredibly exciting setup of two Masters proved to be something of a damp squib. The culmination of Missy’s substantial arc throughout this series was resolved in unsatisfactory and ambiguous fashion and, aside from a handful of delightfully snarky lines, Simm got very little to do other than wave his laser screwdriver at stuff. Instead, we were given hundreds of cannon fodder Cybermen, who were blown away pretty easily. Were it not for Talalay’s directorial style and admirable sense of scope, this could have seriously lacked a sense of threat.
It’s the ending, though, that will spark real discussion here. First, we got the return of Heather from series opener ‘The Pilot’ as a kind of deus ex puddle to rescue Bill from her Cyberman body. While the revelation was a genuine surprise and had been seeded throughout the series, it felt a little bizarre and their decision to explore the world together had a few too many echoes of Clara and Ashildr just a few years ago. It does, however, leave the door open for Mackie to return and that is something that is definitely to be welcomed.
The second revelation, then, was the beginning of the Doctor’s regeneration. In a wrinkle that reflected the stubbornness of Capaldi’s Doctor, he forcibly halted the telltale orange light, while reprising lines familiar to fans of David Tennant and Matt Smith. He then emerged, stumbling, from the TARDIS to be greeted by David Bradley as original Doctor William Hartnell, returning after playing Hartnell in TV movie An Adventure in Space and Time. Although heavily rumoured in some circles online, this was still a surprise and provided an impressive tease for the Christmas special, in which Capaldi will say goodbye.
It may have not always worked as a series finale, but ‘The Doctor Falls’ was certainly an impressive episode of Doctor Who and one that looks set to mark the opening of what will be a memorable departure for perhaps the best Doctor, from a pure acting perspective, of the modern era.
Next Time: That’s it until Christmas, but what a tantalising teaser the presence of David Bradley as the First Doctor was. Well worth taking a break from the chocolate and charades for, I’d say.
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